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'Contact arrangements' refers to who the child lives with (the resident parent) and when they can see the non-resident parent. 

Contact arrangements should be discussed and decided by the parents. They should always focus on what's best for the child, not what's best for the parents.

If possible, this decision should happen without going to court. A court process can be distressing, costly and lengthy.

If parents are finding it difficult to agree on arrangements, the National Association of Child Contact Centres may be able to help. Contact centres provide a friendly, safe and neutral environment for the non-resident parent (and other family members) to see the child without the parents having to meet.

If parents can't agree on contact arrangements, the next step is family mediation. This can help resolve disputes without needing to go to court.

A mediator is an independent, trained professional who can help parents come to an agreement and explain how this is legally bound.

Parents may be able to get legal aid for mediation. Find out more from the Family Mediation Council.

Sometimes mediation doesn't work. That might be because one parent doesn't agree to attend or because an agreement can't be made with the help of a mediator.

If mediation fails, either parent can apply through the courts for a Child Arrangements Order. This should always be a last resort.

Before an application can be made, parents will need to prove they have attempted mediation and should get legal advice from a lawyer (specialising in family law) or visit their local Citizen's Advice Bureau.

A Child Arrangements Order (previously known as a Contact Order) is a legally binding agreement that specifies:

  • who the child lives with (resident parent)
  • who will have contact with the child
  • how often and for how long the contact visits will be.

The court will only make an Arrangements Order (rather than make no Order) where they believe it would be better for the child to do so.

Before they can see a judge, the family will be allocated a Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) officer. The Cafcass officer will work with the family to assess any risks to the children and consider whether a decision can be made through mediation.